Random Jam of the Week 004

Joel makes the case that Fountains of Wayne are more than a one-hit-wonder, half-heartedly.

Fountains of Wayne have kind of an unfortunate story. On one hand, they made it bigger than 98% of bands ever do. On the other, their legacy is defined by one goofy (albeit very good) novelty song that is doomed to feature prominently in VH1’s “100 Greatest One-Hit-Wonders” and “I love the 2000’s” episodes.

Yes, “Stacy’s Mom” was fun.  A tribute to The Cars, the intro is so similar to “Just What I Needed” that Ric Ocasek probably tripped on all six of his children running to phone his lawyer (actually he was pretty cool about it, although apparently the first time he heard “Stacy’s Mom” he did think it was a direct sample). The video is just as hilarious today as it was back then, with its reference to Fast Times at Ridgemont High, “I Heart Ric” license plate, and great comic coordination between song and scene. It probably deserved to be a megahit. Still, I can’t imagine the band has anything but a love/hate relationship with the song: “We’d like to thank ‘Stacy’s Mom’ for making us rich… and for cementing our art’s place in history next to the ‘Macarena’ guys.”

Six years and several hundred thousand album sales before “Stacy’s Mom”, Fountains of Wayne released their self -titled debut, headlined by the single “Sink to the Bottom.” As you can tell from the video, it was clearly 1997. As you can tell from the song, Fountains of Wayne were clearly honing their act as The Cars for the post-Nirvana generation. It’s fun, catchy New Wave revival with barbershop harmonies and the simplest of synthy beep melodies, proudly played with one index finger. But it’s also melodic power pop with dissonant, grungy guitar breaks buried in angsty-sounding effects, played by a guy in orange-tinted sunglasses kicking a lot of crash cymbals. The lyrics are repetitive (just two stanzas, one of which includes the song title three times) and simple (“the ocean is big and blue”) but just slightly clever, with enough of the requisite self-deprecation to know it’s nineties alternative (“I’m going nowhere/Getting there soon”). The video is an all-inclusive, attention-deficit buffet of silly aquatic-related images, including old footage of dolphin tricks, sewer fishing in the street, and a fat guy eating goldfish crackers. This is everything cool about eighties guitar pop adapted to sound and look like everything cool about nineties guitar pop.

All of this is in the service of a weird confession: I feel like Fountains of Wayne deserve to be more than just the “Stacy’s Mom” band. It doesn’t make sense, because plenty of bands that sounded similar to them (Superdrag, Nada Surf, Guster, etc.) never landed that level of ubiquitous hit.  There’s a ceiling for their brand of music, and arguably, they hit it. The world only has room for one Weezer, and honestly, I don’t think FoW were as fresh or as consistent a band as Rivers & Co were in the nineties. So instead, FoW occasionally get a track tossed on a TV show (“Sink to the Bottom” was featured on How I Met Your Mother) and release an album every couple of years which no one notices.  Including me; I have listened to zero FoW songs released after 2003. I am a hypocrite.

The fact is that any one-hit-wonder band probably has other good songs.  “Sink to the Bottom” is just one such track. I could be making this argument for any number of bands (Thin Lizzy was way more than just “The Boys Are Back In Town”, for instance). Is it the worst thing in the world to be famous for one thing you made, even if you made a lot of other stuff everyone ignored? No, it’s not. Fine. They can just be the “Stacy’s Mom” band.

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